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Confusion and Contradiction – a story of utter inconsistency in the Body Scanner programme

November 17, 2012

Over the last ten years the global security market has grown nearly tenfold from some €10 billion to a market size of some €100 billion in 2011, with an annual turnover of around €30 billion in the EU. However, as recent market evolutions indicate, the global market shares of European companies could drop significantly over the next years if no action is taken to enhance their competitiveness.

Come be “screened”

Confusion and contradiction – This is the only possible way to describe the current global situation regarding full-body scanners. In spite of claims by the US Department of Homeland Security and the European Commission to be striving for a “harmonized approach” to security, the global position could not be more disjointed. The US, for example, has body scanners at all of its international airports and offers passengers a possibility to opt out, while the UK, with its so-called “special relationship” with the US has body scanners now at only seven of its international airports and no possibility to opt out. Australia also has a ‘no scan / no fly’ policy but excludes children from patdowns and scans, while the US and UK make a special point of fully screening child passengers. “Harmonised”?

Then there is the on-going saga of Millimetre Wave scanners: After German and Italian authorities had trialled this technology and found it to be “slow, ineffective” and in the case of Hamburg airport trials, “useless”, the UK and Australia began installing the scanners referring to them as “essential”.

Go figure!

The last few months have seen a string of news events around the body scanner debacle that suggest all is not right with the Orwellian strip-searcher:

Backscatter gets the red card

Official Rapiscan example image. Dark areas signal metallic objects and points of deepest penetration.

Official Rapiscan example image.

Finally, it seems that the dangers of using backscatter X-ray scanners have been heeded by the politicians on a global scale, a reason for some of us to celebrate, perhaps. The excuse given in the US was that they (the TSA) wanted to replace the backscatter scanners with more “privacy friendly” scanners. Rapiscan, the main producer of the backscatter scanners, is currently being investigated following being accused of falsifying information regarding their attempts at so-called “privacy friendly” software. All this only a year after they were discovered hiding information on the levels of radiation emitted by the Secure 1000 scanner.

All the while the so-called “useless” Millimetre Wave scanners, the ones that failed to detect the Underwear Bomber in 2009, are being spread at a breathtaking rate to all US and UK airports.

Although the UK and US feel the need to protect their airspace from suicide bombers with these so-called “essential body scanners” for flights leaving their shores, there remains no such scanning procedures on most incoming flights, including such important source airports as Hamburg, Paris, Brussels, Madrid or Milan. Considering that this latest push to install scanners was based on the apparent threat posed by terrorists with explosives in their underwear on incoming flights, I am left asking just how ‘essential’ these intrusive scanners really are.

And let’s not forget perimeter security at the same airports with scanners. While airports may be investing millions in keeping potential terrorists from jumping the fence, their technology has been proven again to be useless as demonstrated recently by a New York man found strolling accross the runway at JFK!

The Manchester Airport Case

MAN spokeswoman in 2011 tries to sell the public the idea of radiation scanners

After Heathrow decided to discontinue their use of Rapiscan’s backscatter X-ray scannersdue to “pressure” from their customers and the fear of negative health effects, Manchester airport, with its 19 £180,000 ionising radiation scanners, was left as the only place in Europe still with these scanners. They had already tried to justify their choice of scanner by claiming that the alternative Millimetre Wave scanners did not meet their needs. But now we find a situation in which the European Commission has forced MAN to deinstall their radiation scanners and the airport’s management, as a result, has now opted for exactly the type of scanner they had originally claimed were no good.

Then, there is the European Commission (EC). As previously mentioned on this blog, the ever inept Siim Kallas, Commissioner of Transport at the EC, banned the backscatter X-ray scanners in 2011 and only then called on SCENHIR, the scientific committee to test if his accusation against this technology had any validity. The committee came back with its usual ditheringly vague response that could have been interpreted either way. But Siim said nothing. Manchester celebrated the results of the SCENHIR studies as a victory for the “Radiation? – No Pasa Nada” camp, and the Commissioner made no move whatsoever.

Further Roll-Outs in the UK …. 3 Years Late

“Essential”? That is the adjective most frequently used to justify the latest deployment of body scanners at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Birmingham airports, the first deployments in more than 2 years. The reasoning is still the same – the Underwear Bomber incident of December 2009. But is it really that essential that only 7 UK airports are using scanners three years later? And that is without mentioning the incoming flights without any body scanning processes.

The BBC has just announced the latest scanner installation at London’s Stansted Airport – an L3 Millimetre Wave scanner with Automatic Threat Detection (ATD) software that enables the airport to scan passengers without having to show the naked images. The technology is exactly the same that was trialled at Paris CDG and discontinued after 6 months, exactly the same as was trialled at Milan’s Malpensa airport and claimed to be “slow and ineffective” by the Italian Aviation Authority and exactly the same trialled at Hamburg airport and dubbed “useless” by the German police after it gave an 80% false positive rate. The only difference is that at Stansted, the scans will be compulsory.

The Illegality of the UK No Scan/No Fly policy.

“It’s not us, it’s the government”. That is and always has been the defence of UK airports operating body scanners and the ‘no scan/no fly’ policy. Their PR departments work overtime to overstate that it’s not theirs but the government’s fault that there must be a no sympathy politic against those who attempt to defend their basic rights. But if “the government” insist that an airport must rabbit punch every other passenger before they board their flight, should they still do it?

The ‘No Scan/No Flight’ policy is blatantly illegal. Currently, a woman who works with the Islamic Human Rights Council is suing the UK government over her being denied the right to fly when she refused to be scanned at Manchester airport. At Stansted, where the ATD software is in use, the flight ban on potential abstainers is coercive and against recently introduced European rules.

Legal definition of “coercion” – noun [mass noun]

  • the use of express or implied threats of violence or reprisal (as discharge from employment) or other intimidating behavior that puts a person in immediate fear of the consequences in order to compel that person to act against his or her will 

see also 
the defense that one acted under coercion
see also 
defense duress
undue influence

Harmonised security – you do one thing and we’ll do another!

If the use of these scanners is so “essential”, then why has it taken almost 3 years since the Underwear Bomber incident to introduce these scanners in Australia and at UK international airports Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham and Stansted? Even during the heightened security procedures of the Olympic games when ground to air missiles were deployed on residential tower blocks, body scanners were not seen as a necessary method of screening passengers.

So, we have a ‘harmonised approach to airport security’ with each country doing something different with body scanners, we have the Underwear Bomber still being used as reasoning for installing apparently “essential” scanners 3 years after the event without any significant investigation into the real failings of security on that day, and we have lawmakers in the UK blatantly breaking the law while lawmakers in the European Union who write the legislation do nothing to uphold it.

Confused? So you should be!

Happy flying!

Sam Edi

(Scrap the Scanners)


4 Comments leave one →
  1. cecilia permalink
    January 23, 2013 5:17 pm

    So are any Rapiscan body scanners legal to use in the the UK? Has the EU banned them in UK airports only or can they still be used for theft purposes in a company that stocks products in a warehouse?

    • January 24, 2013 6:40 am

      The backscatter scanners are now illegal to use under recent EU law. But, this I believe is only for public transport hubs. It may still be possible to use backscatter scanners elsewhere. Manchester airport was given extra year to finish using their 19 180,000 pound Rapiscan scanners, but that extension ended last November and they have uninstalled them now. The legislation demanded that EU airports both get rid of backscatter scanners and begin offering a’opt-out’ for those who do not wish to pass through the approved Millimetre Wave scanners. However, the UK government continues to break the law with their no scan / no fly policy.

      If you know of anywhere still using the backscatter scanners, we would be very interested if you could let us know. Thanks

      • cecilia permalink
        January 24, 2013 6:05 pm

        So when you say it may still be possible to use backscatter scanners elsewhere do you mean they can be used elsewhere in the UK apart from the UK airports? Currently rapiscan body scanners are being used in the Alliance Boots company. which is based in the UK. These Rapiscans are in 3 different warehouses (that stock products). If the EU have banned them from the UK airports does that still apply to UK companies using them within their warehouses?

  2. January 24, 2013 9:32 pm

    Cecilia. Email me at please.
    This is important.

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